Connecticut River Hydropower Agreements Fail the Public’s River
CRC opposes major elements of agreements addressing river flow and fish migration below Turners Falls dam
Greenfield, MA – Five Connecticut River hydropower facilities applied for renewed operating licenses in December, 2020. The five facilities include the Turners Falls Dam and Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage in Massachusetts, owned by FirstLight Power, which have been holding discussions with local stakeholders for the past year. Today, parties to the settlement negotiations on the license terms filed a third “Agreement in Principle” document with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. As with the two this establishes initial details on how the parties propose the facility be licensed by the federal government. This document outlines operational requirements for the Turners Falls hydropower project as well as requirements for implementing both fish passage at the dam and a barrier net at Northfield Mountain.
“We are disappointed in the outcome of some of these negotiations and cannot support several critical elements. Even though we signed on to the recreation agreement, we cannot sign this document,” noted Andrew Fisk, Executive Director of the Connecticut River Conservancy (CRC). “We support the changes in how water will flow through the turbines at Cabot generating station to improve river health below the power canal and the new releases of water to be spilled at the Turners Falls Dam during the fish migration season. However, the timeframes given to FirstLight Power to install fish passage projects and a barrier net at Northfield Mountain are lengthy and unnecessary.”
“Other than the barrier net, the agreement does not address impacts from Northfield Mountain, and in fact it allows FirstLight to use a larger operating range in the upper reservoir and this will increase impacts,” noted Andrea Donlon, CRC River Steward. “It also does not prevent FirstLight Power from dewatering parts of Barton Cove, as happened in the summer of 2021 when boats were stranded due their excessive pumping at Northfield Mountain. Summer, fall, and winter flows from the Turners Falls dam are also not enough to meet water quality standards and support aquatic life.”
The failure of the Turners Falls hydropower project to adequately pass migratory fish has been known for decades, and Northfield Mountain has been operating for many years without any protection against fish being killed by the turbines. These facilities have had a significant detrimental impact on the public’s ability to restore historic migratory fish populations. “This agreement, if enacted in state and federal licenses, will mean that upstream fish passage at Turners Falls will not be completed until 2032, and that is We think the public won’t want to wait that long to see a new fish lift, either,” noted Andrew Fisk. Those interested can learn how to speak up for the river and the fish at www.ctriver.org/hydropower.
“Delaying this work saves FirstLight Power money. F irstLight can afford to do this work as soon as plans are designed and permitted. Their unnecessary delays just continue the decades-long costs borne by the river and the public,” noted Fisk.
FirstLight Power generates revenue at the two facilities from several energy markets and is asking for additional storage volume in the upper reservoir at Northfield Mountain under the new license. A company filing of their 2019 revenue from the two generating facilities shows Northfield Mountain earned $158M and Turners Falls about $18M annually. The revenue impacts of the operational changes at Turners are unknown to CRC. FirstLight Power is owned by PSP Investments, a Canadian public sector pension investment firm. PSP Investments purchased FirstLight Power in 2016 for $1.1B with full awareness that operational changes as well as fish passage and protection measures would be required at these two facilities. As with any asset purchase by a sophisticated investment firm like PSP Investments, it is certain they booked these anticipated costs.
The operational changes at Cabot generating station granted the company periods of time for profitable generation to offset the revenue impacts of the proposed operational changes. Additionally, the company will likely have access to new revenue and subsidies upon receiving their new license. These include direct grants from the recently enacted Infrastructure bill to support recreational improvements, generation upgrades, and environmental improvements. FirstLight Power will also likely become eligible for energy credits from New England states as well as the newly enacted Clean Peak standard incentives created by Massachusetts in recent years.
Those interested can learn how to speak up for the river and the fish at www.ctriver.org/hydropower.
BACKGROUND: Five Connecticut River hydropower facilities submitted final applications for new operating licenses in December, 2020. The five facilities include the Turners Falls Dam and Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project in Massachusetts owned by FirstLight Power, and the Wilder, Bellows Falls, and Vernon Dams in Vermont and New Hampshire owned by Great River Hydro. Once they are issued, the licenses for these facilities will be in place for the next 30-50 years and impact more than 175 miles of the Connecticut River. It’s critical that we all speak up NOW in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to influence these operating licenses for the most river and fish friendly operations possible.
ABOUT CRC: Since 1952, Connecticut River Conservancy has been the voice for the Connecticut River watershed, from source to sea. They collaborate with partners across four states to protect and advocate for your rivers and educate and engage communities. They bring people together to prevent pollution, improve habitat, and promote enjoyment of your river and its tributary streams. Healthy rivers support healthy economies. To learn more about CRC, or to make a contribution to help protect your rivers, visit www.ctriver.org.